Watch 2019’s 10 Most-Streamed FRONTLINE Documentaries

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December 19, 2019

How did President Donald Trump’s battle with China over trade begin?

Was Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi?

Who’s to blame for the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California state history?

Throughout 2019, FRONTLINE traveled the country and the world asking tough questions like these. What we found unfolded in the form of more than 20 new documentaries — films that held the powerful accountable, told memorable stories, and shone new light on pivotal issues at home and around the world.

As the year draws to a close, we’ve curated a list of the 10 new FRONTLINE documentaries that have earned the most streams in 2019* — and collected them all in one place, for easy viewing. Whether it’s a film that shares the stories of young survivors of sex trafficking in America, or one that offers a startling, on-the-ground look inside a bloody drug war in the Philippines, each documentary on this list will engage you, surprise you and challenge you.

The best part? All 10 documentaries are streaming for free — online, on-demand and on the PBS Video App.

To find out which FRONTLINE documentaries made this year’s list, read (and stream) on.

10. Right to Fail

About the documentary: Following a 2014 federal court order, thousands of New Yorkers with severe mental illnesses won the chance to live independently in supported housing. But when FRONTLINE and ProPublica investigated what has happened to people who moved from adult homes into apartments, Joaquin Sapien, Tom Jennings and their team found more than two dozen cases in which the system failed — sometimes with deadly consequences.
More to explore: Go inside the making of the film, and read about the response our initial joint reporting prompted.

9. Supreme Revenge

About the documentary: The bitter, partisan battle that played out during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings reflected deep divisions in Washington that may have seemed unique to America’s current political and social moment. But as this film from Michael Kirk and his team revealed, the intense politicization on display during the Supreme Court confirmation process — and the change in the makeup of the court itself — have been shifts decades in the making. A central player in the court’s conservative transformation, the film finds, has been Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — motivated in part by a three-decade-old grievance over Democrats’ successful opposition to Reagan nominee Robert Bork.
More to explore: Through 39 extended, interactive interviews from the making of Supreme Revenge, get firsthand insights from three decades of Supreme Court confirmation battles culminating in the Kavanaugh vote.

8. Sex Trafficking in America

About the documentary: How do you fight sex trafficking in the digital age? Two-and-a-half years in the making, this documentary from Jezza Neumann and Lauren Mucciolo offers an eye-opening look at sexual exploitation — and the evolving battle against it — in one American city: Phoenix, Arizona.
More to explore: Read a Q&A with the film team on the unique challenges of reporting on sexual exploitation, explore our reporting on what makes some minors vulnerable to sex traffickers, and learn about how social media has shaped both the practice of sex trafficking and the fight against it.

7. Fire in Paradise

About the documentary: The 2018 Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive blaze in California state history, burning an area the size of Chicago and killing more than 80 people after it was ignited by a broken Pacific Gas & Electric transmission line. This documentary features stunning body-cam and cell phone footage from those in the path of the inferno, and shares tales of both miraculous escape and unfathomable loss. “I told my husband, ‘I can’t run through fire,’” says survivor Nichole Jolly, who was stranded in her car after helping to evacuate the hospital where she worked. “And he said, ‘You’re going to have to.’” The documentary also raises tough questions about who and what are to blame for the fire’s catastrophic toll, reports on how climate change is making wildfires more frequent and deadly, and traces why many residents weren’t officially alerted to evacuate until it was too late — if at all.
More to explore: Meet the inmates who fought California’s deadliest wildfire, watch the story of a woman who went into labor while evacuating, and read about why watchdogs, regulators and customers are skeptical of PG&E’s motives in implementing blackouts.

6. Zero Tolerance

About the documentary: How did opposition to immigration become the signature policy of Donald Trump’s presidency? This documentary from Michael Kirk and his team goes inside the current crisis on the border, and finds that it’s been underpinned by years of planning from three anti-immigration hardliners who saw in Trump a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “I said, this is our guy. He’s a very imperfect instrument, but he’s an armor-piercing shell,” says Steve Bannon, who made up the trio, along with Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller. The film traces how Miller, Sessions and Bannon helped Trump turned anti-immigration fervor into a powerful political weapon that fueled division and violence, and how they’ve waged a war to keep their “imperfect instrument” on course.
More to explore: Browse a collection of 38 interviews from the making of the film with current and former Trump and Obama administration officials, immigration advocates and activists, journalists and scholars.

5. On the President’s Orders

About the documentary: An acclaimed theatrical release, this documentary is an unflinching, on-the-ground look at President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs in the Philippines — both those carrying it out, and those most impacted. Filmmakers Olivier Sarbil and James Jones embedded with a police unit implementing the crackdown, filming officers laughing as they spoke about the deaths of drug suspects: “If they are stubborn, then we will kill them,” a now-former police chief says in one particularly stunning scene.
More to explore: Read a Q&A about the making of the film, learn what has happened to families left behind in Duterte’s deadly anti-drug campaign, and read an interview with journalist Maria Ressa about the retribution she’s faced for covering Duterte.

4. The Mueller Investigation

About the documentary: For two years, Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether President Trump obstructed justice dominated headlines. This documentary from Michael Kirk and his team chronicles the road that led to the Mueller report, offering an inside look into the investigation that President Donald Trump continually deemed a “witch hunt.”
More to explore: Browse an interactive collection of interviews about President Trump’s showdown with the Department of Justice.

3. In the Age of AI

About the documentary: When it comes to artificial intelligence, the future is now. That’s a key takeaway from this comprehensive look at how AI will change our world — and how it already has. The transformation that’s underway is replete with both promise and peril: On the one hand, we meet people deploying AI algorithms to solve urgent problems, like an AI scientist at MIT who turned her breast cancer diagnosis into a tool to save lives. But we also see how AI is being used to dystopian ends — like in China’s Xinjiang region, home to millions of Uighur Muslims, where an artificial intelligence system the government claims can predict individuals prone to “terrorism” is part of a crackdown that has seen an estimated million or more people detained in so-called “reeducation” camps.
More to explore: Learn about how artificial intelligence can be biasedand about why some researchers believe more than half of all jobs in America, both blue- and white-collar, are resistant to automation.

2. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

About the documentary: How did Mohammed bin Salman, the young Saudi crown prince, rise to power — and how has he maintained it? With on-the-ground reporting from Saudi Arabia, including the crown prince’s first comments on his role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, this documentary from Martin Smith, Linda Hirsch and Sara Obeidat examines Prince Mohammed’s vision for the future, his crackdown on dissent, his relationship with the United States — and his ties to Khashoggi’s killing, which the CIA concluded he ordered. The film raises serious questions about how the October 2018 murder could have been, as Saudi officials have insisted, a “rogue operation.”
More to explore: Read about the paradox of Saudi Arabia’s social reforms, explore a timeline on the rise of Prince Mohammed, and read extended interviews with sources including activist Hala Al-Dosari and former CIA official Norman Roule.

1. Trump’s Trade War

About the documentary: Get the inside story of President Trump’s gamble to confront China over trade in this investigation with NPR. From producer Rick Young and his team and NPR correspondent Laura Sullivan, Trump’s Trade War takes viewers on the ground in both the U.S. and China, drawing on business and government insider accounts to offer an eye-opening look at the increasingly competitive rivalry between the two countries — a rivalry that extends well beyond just trade and tariffs.
More to explore: Go inside the White House’s heated battle over China, and learn about China’s state-sponsored economic model.


*About This List: The list was determined by the number of PBS video player, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter streams of FRONTLINE films that premiered in 2019.  


Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE

Twitter:

@ptaddonio

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